Laxmi Bera, the head woman mason of the Sanitary Mart under the Tamralipta Guchha Samithy, one of the cluster organizations under the Ramakrishna Mission Lokshiksha Parishad (RKMLP) is all smiles as she painstakingly explains the work of her unit, but behind her soft spoken exterior and quiet demeanor lies the story of a self made woman who by her strong will has changed the course of her destiny.
Sanitary marts have been established in every block of Midnapore district in the state of West Bengal and have played a major role in reaching out and making the distribution of toilets easy and cost effective.
Ten years ago, struggling to make ends meet with three small children and an ailing husband, Laxmi joined as a mason at the sanitary mart at the Tamralipta Guccha Samithy. The sanitary mart was one of the innovative strategies under the Midnapore Demand Driven Sanitation Programme initiated in the year 1990. Sanitary marts have been established in every block of Midnapore district in the state of West Bengal and have played a major role in reaching out and making the distribution of toilets easy and cost effective. Six models of toilets ranging from Rupees 400 to 4000 are available at the sanitary marts. Moreover, the State Government has introduced an incentive of rupees 200 for families falling under the poverty line to support installation of toilets in their households.
The Demand Driven Sanitation Strategy was conceived, designed and initiated by UNICEF and RKMLP in collaboration with the Government of West Bengal and the Midnapore Zilla Parishad. The Midnapore sanitation strategy has been recognized as a role model for the promotion of the Central Rural Sanitation Programme under the Government of India. Today Laxmi has taken over as the head mason of this cluster and supervises nine women workers. As head mason, she earns a fixed salary and commission amounting to Rs. 500 a week or about Rs. 2000 a month and is proud to be part of ‘a movement’ which has brought East Midnapore on the verge of being declared as the only totally sanitized district in the country.
Laxmi is one among the numerous success stories of what the Total Sanitation Campaign has achieved over the years. What started as a routine development initiative has today taken the shape of a movement. More than 200 NGO’s, various departments of the district administration, local panchayats, thousands of school children, self help groups, youth clubs and citizens have played a major role in this march towards total sanitation. From a household toilet coverage of 4.74% in 1991 to 100 % in 2006 has been a remarkable journey. A total of 7,83,623 households have been covered with sanitation facilities in the district apart from all the primary and secondary schools.
Today, East Midnapore has 25 sanitary marts reaching out to the nook and corners of the district and employing more than 300 women masons in the process.
Laxmi recalls the initial struggle she had to go through in managing a job and three children and an ailing husband. Today, her second son Dileep is studying in class ten while her daughter Kukumani is in class nine. The older son Deepak, who is fourteen years old, is a member of the national cadet corps and wants to join the Indian Army.
Laxmi’s husband Satyanarayan Behra, who works in the fields during the harvest season, recognizes Laxmi’s immense contribution and says that the fortune of the family has transformed due to her hard work and determination. Years back, the family used to live in a small hut, but today they have a good concrete structure for their house, thanks to her regular job as a head mason.
One of the main reasons for the success of the Midnapore Demand Driven Sanitation Programme has been the synergy between the Zilla Parishad, the District Administration, the NGO’s, UNICEF and other stakeholders. Weekly meetings are held from the gram panchayat level to the district administration level to assess the progress of household sanitation coverage’s and immediate steps are taken to plug loopholes. Moreover, the whole campaign is backed by a strong Information Education and Communication (IEC) component and a network of sanitation motivators involving village and youth clubs to take the message forward.
Today, East Midnapore has 25 sanitary marts reaching out to the nook and corners of the district and employing more than 300 women masons in the process. As Laxmi points out “Joining the sanitary mart has been a blessing, apart from the monetary benefits it has brought a new perspective about life to me and my family. There is so much to look forward to in life”